How Custom Software Fills the Gap in Hybrid Workforces
Article originally published in DZone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced workforces to split into two unequal halves: those who can afford to work remotely, and those who can’t. While some consider a hybrid workforce as an opportunity--and it is--there’s no denying that it’s also causing strain to both businesses and their employees. Unless a solution is put in place to help companies adjust to this new situation, the impact will continue to grow.
One solution is for companies to invest in custom software that directly addresses the issues associated with a sudden transition to a hybrid workforce. But first, let’s examine what those issues are.
What Challenges Do Hybrid Workforces Face?
Disruption of Established Processes
The coronavirus forced us to move to a hybrid workforce before we were ready. Most of the changes were abrupt--done in the heat of the moment as a way to get through the immediate crisis. Now that things have settled into place, businesses are having to backtrack on some of those hasty decisions.
Employees that used to work in the same location are now scattered. Facilities that housed hundreds now operate with a skeleton crew. Processes that were refined over decades of business operations are now obsolete or abandoned. Things aren’t the same anymore, and businesses shouldn’t act like they are.
Communication and Collaboration
A hybrid workforce means that more team communication happens at a distance. This additional layer slows down the flow of information and increases delays. This is a big step back from the days where one could simply lean out of their cubicle to ask a colleague a question or share ideas.
Managers want to know that their team members are finishing their tasks, and who is falling behind. This can seem more difficult in a hybrid environment, where the manager can’t physically see what their employees are doing at a given time. Sometimes tasks that used to take a few minutes are now taking far longer because tools or systems built during pre-COVID times are no longer the most efficient option.
Maintaining Data Security
Protecting company networks and data was already a tough job when the workforce was entirely onsite. Now, organizations have to maintain IT security across multiple locations, including home offices. Sensitive data is at much greater risk than before and off-the-shelf communication tools may not have sufficient protection.
How Custom Software Can Fill In the Gap
For companies that have sufficient resources to invest, custom software can tackle the challenges of the new hybrid workforce and provide long-term value to the company. It does so in several ways:
Identifies Weaknesses In Your Process
A proper custom software development project will undergo a thorough discovery phase, part of which involves identifying the gaps between your previous processes and your current ones. By collecting user stories and performance metrics, your business will be able to judge which change has cost you the most, and therefore where to prioritize your development efforts.
Custom Software Can Intelligently Address Inefficiencies
The problem with off-the-shelf software products is that they’re built to satisfy as many customers as possible. They’re one-size-fits-all products that may address your needs in broad strokes but fall apart when applied.
A custom software solution, created with a keen understanding of the business challenges and the company’s unique operating requirements, has a far greater chance of solving business needs. You’re no longer adjusting your business process to fit the software. Instead, you can fit the software to meet the business need. Often, off-the-shelf software can integrate with your custom solutions, allowing you to leverage the best of both options.
Custom Software Provides Long Term Value
One of the biggest advantages of a custom software solution is that there will be greater returns as time progresses. Your business will be able to make long-term plans for the hybrid workforce and factor them into the scope, thus helping the business grow more efficiently and earn more money.
There will also be additional cost savings from not having to pay hosting or license fees from third-party solutions. The more employees that need to use the custom software, the less money is spent on a SaaS provider.
Offers More Security
Organizations that require a high level of security won’t be able to rely on off-the-shelf SaaS products--especially ones that don’t offer a self-hosted version. You need to know where your data is stored and control whether or not outside parties can access it. For that, you need to build your own solution. Even third party companies that claim to be good stewards of data can be subject to breaches or bad actors.
A custom software solution can be hosted and managed internally, with less risk of hidden admin-level accesses or unmonitored external connections. Also, your custom software solution can be built to match your own internal security protocols, such as LDAP single sign-on.
How Do You Approach Building Custom Software?
One doesn’t simply order custom software as if it were a meal from a restaurant. Custom software needs to be built like a bridge: with cautious planning and care.
Assemble a Capable Team
The first thing you need to do is to make sure you have the talent to get the project done. You shouldn’t assign developers randomly or haphazardly. You need to assign developers who have experience creating the kind of application you’re looking for, and have the right mindset to lead an independent development project.
If you don’t have those kinds of resources, or can’t afford to reassign them, then you can also hire an external development agency to do the work for you. They’ll be more experienced than your team and will be able to handle every aspect of the project. Some agencies are also able to augment your existing team to fill in skill gaps but maintain the continuity of in-house planning and development.
Identify and Understand Hybrid Workforce Efficiency Gaps
Once assembled, the project team will then identify the challenges that the new hybrid workforce is experiencing, understand the underlying causes of those challenges, and their impact on customers. The team will gather data by collecting user stories and tracking performance metrics if they exist.
Create a Business Case and Project Plan
Now that the problems have been identified, the team must create a business case demonstrating why a custom software solution would be more cost-effective than signing on with an existing SaaS solution. The focus would be on the benefits of custom software, such as worker efficiency, security, and requirements matching.
The team would also create a preliminary project plan that describes the project in both broad strokes and in as much detail as possible. This project plan would estimate the hours of effort necessary to bring the custom software to life, and timelines for launch and feature roll-outs.
Execute Project Plan In Phases
Once the project has been approved by upper management, work should be parceled out among relevant team members. The Agile methodology works best for these kinds of software projects because a hybrid workforce is fluid and needs may change as the software is being developed. This means developing and releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as possible so that users can provide the dev team with useful feedback, and then proceeding with the project in phases.
Review, Iterate, Repeat
The current hybrid work situation is a fluid environment. Things are still likely to change, and the project plan needs to be open to change, too. The project should be divided into sprints or phases, with the output of each sprint undergoing an extensive review by both the development team and by stakeholders to see if it’s still relevant to the current environment.
Eventually, by following the project plan but staying open to necessary change, the company will have a custom software solution that perfectly fits their needs for the current situation but with enough longevity to last them long after the current crisis.
Custom software is more than just a band-aid solution. It’s a long-term investment that has the potential to solve both short- and long-term hybrid workforce problems if it’s developed the right way: by addressing the roots of an issue, forward-thinking design, and staying open to change.
Written by Shane Zilinskas, Founder
Published September 17, 2020